In the novel Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, the character Tom had great difficulty finding employment and saving his money. During the novel, the Joad family is a victim of the infamous Dust Bowl that occurred during the Great Depression, killing off any hopes of profit from agriculture. In response, they migrate toward the Western coast of California, where it is said to have great job opportunites. Throughout the book, the family travels in a beat up truck, that is always on the brink of breaking down on the side of the road, they use a large amount of their money to fix it, such as repairing a flat tire. When the Joads finally arrive in California, they manage to find work at a peach farm, which provides work, shelter, and a general store to buy food, but it only will pay five cents per basket full of harvested peaches. After a full day of work, when Ma goes to buy groceries for dinner, it cost her a dollar, but she could only buy enough to feed her family for one meal. Soon after this, the Joads leave the peach farm for another harvesting job at a cotton farm. The cotton farm owners force the Joads to buy their own bags to pick with and yet they still offers low wages found everywhere else. However, one of the smallest children in the family revealed that Tom has killed two men in his lifetime, so the family is forced to send him away, and with the end of cotton season, the Joads flee to a barn. In the barn, Tom’s sister, Rose of Sharon gives birth to a stillborn baby, also inside the barn is a man who is close to death from starvation, because Rose of Sharon still has milk from her baby, she begins breastfeeding the man, ending the novel. In the novel Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, Tom demonstrates how the economy has changed and how easy it was to spend money because of the weakened economy and high prices of products.
During the novel, Tom has to be employed at embarrassingly low wages, even though the price of other goods such as food hasn’t changed and are incredibly high for what people can afford. During the novel, men from the midwest flocked to western farms seeking employment; “He’ll get five thousan’ there, an’ he’ll pay fifteen cents an hour. An’ you poor bastards’ll have to take it ‘cause you’ll be hungry” (Steinbeck, 359). Farmers could take advantage of workers all the time like this because migrants searching for work had nowhere else to go; near the end of the novel, the Joads take two low paying harvesting jobs, and they soon left them not making any money. “Good cotton bag, last all season. An’ when she’s worn out, draggin’, turn er’ aroun’, use the other end. Sew up the open end. Open up the worn end. And when both ends is gone, why that’s nice cloth!” (Steinbeck, 554). If it was possible to fix something that was broken during the Great Depression, then someone would fix it, or used it for something else. As there wasn’t enough money to buy anything new, families would take what they had and use it as much as possible. Throughout the novel, employment was rare and products such as food were extremely overpriced compared to what everyone was making, even if they worked.
Today, life is different, employment although still difficult to find at times, is not as rare as it was during the Great Depression, and the price of goods is reasonable compared to wages of people now. During my experiences of trying to find employment as a high school student, I’ve found myself limited to location, because I cannot currently drive, I am limited to local establishments near my house; such the library, or a fast food restaurant. If I cannot be brought there during the winter, then I can’t take the job. I am also limited to age limits, because I am still fifteen, I am limited to who will be able to hire me, and during my search, almost all the jobs that will hire people my age are either taken or too far away. I also do not get an allowance and without a job, I usually do not have much money, at most, ten dollars in change, occasionally twenty, unless I get money for my Birthday or Christmas. As a result of this, I cannot afford much, like the people in the Great Depression. I typically only buy things that I consider important to me, usually a book or video game, not food like the 1930s as my family supplies that. Even though I do not need to have a job yet, I do not need the money to survive either, unlike Tom, who needs a job to help support his family.
My life and Tom’s life are extremely different just because of the time period, but we also have some similarities such as the fact that we are both low on money, or that we both are always looking for a well-paying job. During a large portion of Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family is low on money, with the Great Depression in place, and their family farm failing as the Dust Bowl claims them as it’s victim's; throughout their trip they use their money sparingly, but by the time they get to the peach farm, they are left with no more money. After a full day of picking peaches, they were able to make only one dollar, one of the ways I earn money is by doing small things with one set low wage, similar to how the Joads were paid based off the number of filled peach baskets they filled. I try to use my money as sparingly as possible, only spending money every month or so, but without a steady income, I begin to run out, like the Joad family during their migration to California. As previously mentioned, Tom and I do have some differences, with the largest and most obvious being the eighty four year difference between us, but also location and family occupation. Before the Dust Bowl, Tom lived in Oklahoma, serving a prison sentence for killing a man, which I have clearly have not, whereas I live away from the midwest and up north in the center of New Hampshire. After Tom’s prison sentence, Tom returns to the Joad farm that his grandfather had founded, before their migration to California, it was a family effort to operate the farm; because my family is entirely made up of adults except for me, everyone is employed with various careers, some of which include: Data Entry for the State of New Hampshire, a Granite Quarry worker, and a karate instructor. While we both struggle with money and finding a well paying job, we also live in completely different environments and our families do completely different occupations.
In another novel that can be closely connected to this topic is Stronger, by Jeff Bauman, before losing his legs in the Boston Bombing, worked in a low wage job at his local Costco, which can be related to me and Tom’s low wage jobs. Bauman states; “Costco kept me under forty hours a week, a standard practice, so I was making less than $16,000 a year”(Bauman, 15). Before the bombing, Bauman was a college dropout who was struggling to make the bills by himself, and his job at Costco had little benefits; similar to how Tom’s job did not come with any free benefits, not even shelter. But also like me, was the hope to go to college to be able to have a high paying occupation. However, because of the overwhelming support provided by donations after the bombing, he could return to Costco working an easy job, and be able to live a comfortable life. As Bauman recalls his early college goal, the novel states; “I wanted my own career. So after a few years, I went back to college at the University of Massachusetts Lowell… with the goal of becoming an engineer. Engineers can make $70,000 a year” (Bauman, 14). Bauman had the hopes of returning to college to earn a degree similar to how I aspire to go to college for a teaching degree; in the end though, Bauman had to take a semester off to recollect his spent college funds. Jeff Bauman for part of his life has experienced losing money quickly and having great difficulty trying to earn it back while simultaneously attending college similar to how Tom and I try to earn money but struggle to save it.
The Great Depression has themes that can still be seen today, low wage work and unemployment are still common sights in large cities, although not as common as it was over eighty years ago, some people also can have difficulty with saving money; partly because of the drug epidemic that has become a large part of life today. The Great Depression is portrayed through the novel Grapes of Wrath, and shows the migration to the west in the pursuit of work, mostly in farms harvesting fruits or cotton. Employment during the novel is rare, and when it is available, the wages are incredibly low, and shelter and food cost just as much, if not more than the wages they make. A character from the novel, Tom, and I have multiple similarities when it comes to work, we both work low paying jobs, and run out of money often. But we also have differences, such as where we live, Tom in Oklahoma, and I am in New Hampshire, as well as time period, with Tom being in the 1930s, and I am in 2016. Other parallels that can be draw is from Jeff Bauman from the novel Stronger, as he worked a low wage job and struggled to make his bills at the end of each month; it wasn’t until the Boston Bombing that he gained support and did not need to work his low wage job. In two novels: Grapes of Wrath, and Stronger, themes of low wages and unemployment are relevant and can be seen today, but also in day to day life, and difficulty saving money from almost any cause, whether it be the Great Depression or just trying to survive in with a low paying job.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Viking, 1939. Print.
Bauman, Jeff, and Bret Witter. Stronger. New York: Grand Central, 2014. Print.
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